On Gaming, Inclusion, and Fan-Fabricated Console Wars

Geek & Sundry has a new series from some of the Robot Chicken creators called FetchQuest. Each week, they release a short animated video looking at various aspects of the video game industry. It's sharp and committed to the theme of the episode no matter how many people it may alienate in a given week. It's not my fault that some people don't understand Journey, so I can't be too mad when their indie game episode boiled down to "indie games have no point other than to make you feel stupid." The newest episode, "It's Not Wii U, It's Me" actually hits on a rather raw subject in the gaming community. Watch the catchy and provocative music video then continue on down the page.

I knew what would happen when the video was released on Wednesday and I was right. The fanboys in the YouTube comments (I know, never read the comments, but I find them so inspiring) are flaming each other non-stop. There are a lot people who believe "It's Not Wii U, It's Me" is some official declaration of Nintendo being a bad company because casuals, lol. It's supposed to be a joke, but it's a joke about an issue that's actually fought over at this point.

Console RageFor me, the entire point of video games is to have fun with interactive media. There's no room for excluding any gamer from the community. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all target every demographic from young children to the self-declared hardcore gamer. There's room for everyone on every console. Excluding people from the discussion because they don't play x, y, or z is not doing anything to elevate gaming beyond children's toys in the greater cultural discussion.

The idea that Nintendo is the only console that targets children is a laughable one. Every console targets children with colorful games, recognizable mascots, and huge advertisements in TV shows and ad circulars. Why? They're the largest market. So long as gaming, as a whole, is viewed as something for children to do, the entire gaming market is going to target children on whatever consoles are available.

Each console gets the same shovelware--fast and poorly produced video games designed to turn a profit on a small amount of sales because they were developed for so little money--yet Nintendo is the company stigmatized for it. The motion control for the Wii made it so that a bunch of generic shooting, sports, and point and click games could be developed for home consoles instead of arcades. They wound up on the PS3 and Xbox 360 anyway with d-stick or even Kinect control schemes.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity's RequiemFurthermore, each Nintendo console generation since the SNES has been accused of being just for kids when it was released. It took years for people to acknowledge that the N64 had great games beyond Goldeneye, Super Mario 64, and Super Smash Bros.. The same cycle happened with GameCube (Metroid Prime and Super Smash Bros. Melee) and is, unsurprisingly, starting up with the Wii already. If everyone who now claims to have played Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem, an M-rated horror exclusive, when it was released on the GameCube actually played it, we would be swimming in sequels by now. Hindsight is 20/20 and people get lost in hype, positive or negative, when dealing with any kind of technology.

The bigger accusation against Nintendo is that the company only targets children. It's simply not true. The common argument is that since Nintendo has cute games, they're for children. I remember being pretty shocked the first time all my Pikmin were swallowed whole by enemies in Pikmin for the GameCube where my older brother just thought it was funny. A game like Animal Crossing, all about free exploration and interaction with NPCs and fellow players alike, could probably hold a child's interests for a few hours but will keep an adult coming back to build, customize, and collect all the items for months.

There's a distinct difference between producing a game for children--an educational title featuring Dora the Explorer or a point and click adventure game featuring Mickey Mouse--and producing games that can be enjoyed by anyone--the entire Mario series, Super Smash Bros., The Legend of Zelda series, Pokemon, etc.. The latter are probably only going to be mastered by more mature gamers.

Nintendo's goal is not to appeal only to children but to create games that can be enjoyed on different levels by different gamers. Let's take Pokemon as an example. My OCD self will spend hours grinding up a small roster of Pokemon to equal standing before developing different team combinations to use against real world and NPC challengers. My younger OCD self would level up the starter Pokemon so high that it could beat any gym leader by itself; I would also only choose the water starter because it was blue and I liked blue. And other people memorize rankings, stats, and develop game-breaking training techniques to max out the perfect team from the start.

Pokemon EV TrainingAs the series grows, new features are added to appeal to even more gamers. You can go all The Sims on Pokemon Black/White by building a shopping mall from the ground up or training Pokemon to star in movies and beauty pageants. You can buy stationary to send notes to your friends or spend hours mastering the Pokemon battle subways in multiple battle formats. The ability of a child to play the same game as an adult does not mean that the game is being explored or appreciated in the same way.

Most major triple A titles get ports or specifically designed releases on Nintendo's consoles, including the Resident Evil series, Call of Duty and even Mass Effect. The Wii U already has a ridiculously hard M-rated exclusive, Zombie U's one life and you're done mechanic is certainly not aimed at children, and will have another this summer with Bayonetta 2. Nintendo doesn't typically design M-rated exclusives themselves, but neither do Sony or Microsoft.

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There are other arguments that are even more ridiculous. Motion controls on the Wii were somehow a gimmick to appeal to children that ruined the console, but the Kinect on Xbox360 and PlayStation Move were just bad accessories that had no impact on the quality of the console. Wii U has a touchscreen controller that you can play games on and that's bad, but playing limited versions of PlayStation 3 games on the go with the PSP is a good thing. All three consoles get the new real world action figure-driven Skylanders series, but only Nintendo is actively campaigning for children by releasing it on its consoles. My personal favorite is that the N64 controller was too big and heavy, but the Xbox controller was finally large enough to fit a hardcore gamer's big hands.

Hardcore GamerWhat it comes down to, in all honestly, is personal bias. People will come up with any reason they can to think their preference is the best. It's not a universal attitude among gamers but it is a prevalent one among gamers who follow gaming news and reviews.

There's also a reductive element of "I played Nintendo growing up; therefore it's just for children" that fuels the argument. I also grew up on Nintendo and wound up rage quitting most games because they were too hard for a young child. N64/PlayStation is when I started being able to beat anything harder than a Mario platformer or racing game on a consistent basis and GameCube/Dreamcast/PS2/Xbox is when I realized that the experience of the game is more important than getting the gold star for beating it.

As for me? I would never call myself a hardcore gamer because I don't understand what that distinction is. I struggle to play FPS games because I have depth perception issues and have trouble navigating in a 3D game environment without a visible character onscreen. My own genre preference goes to puzzle, platform, adventure, horror, and music games, but story and a unique experience always trump bragging rights over beating a harder game. I own and regularly play on a Wii, an Xbox 360, a Playstation 3, a 3DS, a PSP, and a strong laptop for PC games.

I have fantastic horror games for the Wii (have you played Cursed Memory or Calling?), all ages exploration-driven indie games on the PS3 (Journey, The Unfinished Swan, Papa & Yo, and the like), and a whole lot of noir-hued adventure games on the Xbox 360 (like Alan Wake and L.A. Noire). The consoles all have pretty comparable libraries at this point and I can pick and choose which is the best for what kind of game.

"It's Not Wii U, It's Me" is meant to be parody of this battle, but it just exemplifies everything that's wrong with deferring to fanboy talking points on gaming issues. A really catchy song is now an excuse to, once again, bash Nintendo fans or abandon a website/video series for mocking the sacred Nintendo.

The console wars are a microcosm of a greater element of exclusion in the gaming community that is boiling over time and again with explosive stories about female gamers and LGBT gamers being discriminated against for daring to enter the boy's club. Video games are for everyone and until we all stop with the daily trash-talking nonsense, the medium is not going to be recognized as anything but kid's stuff for a long time.

Thoughts on the reason behind console wars? Sound off below.

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